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Mar 20, 2023
A young leader’s trials and growth
Lessons learned through self-reflection and working more closely with others
Iori Nishio is involved in digital transformation (DX) at DENSO Corporation’s Toyohashi Plant. After joining the company in 2018, he was appointed to a leadership role despite his young age.
Mr. Nishio believes that strong relationships among workers is the foundation of good manufacturing, but building relationships with others was never his strength. Let’s hear him reflect on his own life, discussing how he became more interested in other people and thus developed his skills as a leader.
Thermal Systems Manufacturing Div. 3 in Toyohashi PlantIori Nishio
Nishio works for the Thermal Systems Manufacturing Div. 3 in Toyohashi Plant, where he is in charge of operations related to DX, Internet of things (IoT) technology and the like. He majored in mechanical engineering at university, where he studied 3D printing using CFRP. Nishio joined DENSO in 2018 as a new graduate and has been involved in changing how DENSO associates approach manufacturing work by digitalizing production lines, products and personal information.
Contents of this article
Finding his own path during a break from college
During my first year at university, I became unsure of which path in school and life I wanted to take, so I took some time off. This ended up being a major turning point in my life.
I enrolled in the mechanical engineering department at a university in the Kanto region with the goal of studying physics, but the first year’s courses covered only basic subjects, such as mathematics, chemistry and the like, which was far from what I had expected from university-level studies. Eventually I couldn’t tolerate that approach, so I decided to take half a year off from college to think about what I really wanted to do in the future.
I wanted to leave the university with the aim of finding my own means of supporting myself, but the only thing I learned during that time was that I was too immature to do it.
Back then, my hobby was collecting musical records, and I was interested in becoming a buyer who would travel overseas to buy records. However, my practical English was not good enough, and I also lacked the required specialized knowledge of records, so that idea ended in disappointment. I pursued a number of other ideas, but every time I ran into similar obstacles that kept me from accomplishing anything.
The experience made me realize that, unless I really focused on learning something thoroughly and then acquired the specific credentials or results necessary to prove my abilities, I would have very few career options in the future. I felt I had failed to develop myself properly, that I had no future, and that I couldn’t achieve anything as an individual. My experiences made it clear how naive I had been, and how tough the real world could be.
In the end, I apologized to my parents and told them I wanted to return to university, where I was able to return as a second-year student. From then on, I could proceed with everything after I could convinced myself why I need to do it, instead of just going with “somehow”. I’m lucky to have realized the importance of this approach at an early stage. I wouldn’t be the person I am without the leave of absence from the university.
Focusing on the present, not relying on successes in the past
I initially became interested in DENSO when I heard one of the older students in my research lab talking about the production engineering capabilities the company has.
He claimed that DENSO mass-produces several thousand to tens of thousands of automotive components a day for each one, meaning they had the manufacturing technologies to complete one component every few seconds. As a young student, I was not sure that such a incredible thing is possible. However, his descriptions made me very interested in DENSO as a company.
Then, when I was seeking for convincing employment, I decided to apply to DENSO in the end. I was attracted to DENSO because I had a chance to work overseas and can work balancing job and my private life there, as well as they had their advanced technologies.
In addition, their headquarters was in Aichi Prefecture, my hometown. My parents were very happy when I got the job at DENSO, though I caused them trouble during my leave of absence from university.
After joining the company, I was assigned to Thermal Systems Manufacturing Division 3, which works with automotive air conditioners and heat management products. I have been involved in DX and introduction of IoT within the plant. More specifically, my work entailed digitalizing production lines, products and personal information, and then utilizing them to change how DENSO associates approach manufacturing work.
Regarding communication in the workplace, I always try to avoid forcing my ideas and standards upon others. This is a valuable lesson I learned from my part time job at a chain izakaya, a Japanese bar, in college.
When I was appointed as a part-time leader, I had worked there longer than any other part-timer, and I decided to use everything I had learned to make our branch the top-performer in the group izakayas. However, despite my enthusiasm for the new challenge, our sales didn’t grow as much as I had hoped, and I spent a lot of time worrying about the reasons why.
That’s when a full-time employee told me, “Perhaps you are too much relying on your successes in the past. Even when you’re trying to achieve the same goal as before, you have to change your approach accordingly.”
I realized that I was trying to force my successes on others, so I stopped proceeding and took time to listen to the opinions of my members. Then they all proposed various great ideas and we became a good cohesive team as a result. The experience taught me that it is important to listen to opinions of others around us and to change things for the better together, rather than to discuss with foregone conclusion.
DENSO has many people with various specialized knowledge and unique values, too, and it has been striving to continually improve itself.
The company has taught me that almost nothing can be accomplished by oneself. I now realize the importance of going together for the same goals while respecting each person’s thought.
Becoming a leader and learning the importance of psychological safety
The biggest accomplishment in my career thus far was being chosen as team leader in my third year at the company. The DX work I had always handled alone would be handled by a team instead.
My team consisted of one elder and experienced associate and four younger associates with high production skills. All of them were transferred from other departments to join my team.
When we first came together as a team, none of us had the same approach or philosophy, so our discussions were often unproductive, and we could not speak openly with each other. In addition to that, I could not have good communication with my members, and my members could not have it each other, neither. In such a situation, my challenge of uniting the team as a leader seemed insurmountable.
However, as leader, I had to keep things moving forward, so I tried various approaches to effective leadership, but that merely caused a rift between me and other members. That’s when I paid closer attention to the attitude of my boss to others around him, as he always listened carefully to what others had to say. I recalled the lessons I had learned as a part-time leader and realized that it was time to apply those lessons to my current work.
So, first of all, I frankly asked various questions to my members, such as “How does this work?” and “How did you come up with that idea?”, taking advantage that I have the knowledge and skills the least in my team. I asked such questions to my members in front of other members to create an environment in which they can ask anything they don’t understand. We gradually became more open and communicative with one another, and as a result we were able to maintain better “psychological safety,” which means confidence that one will not be punished or humiliated for speaking up with ideas or questions.
These days, I feel like we’re almost too open with each other! We’re always very honest and often find ourselves arguing about everything now [laughs].
Having unique presence that can provide my own value
Currently, my personal goal is to have a more unique presence in my workplace.
I would be able to have more unique presence by adding my production engineering skills and experience of working overseas to my IT skills I have been developing. Therefore, I want to work on new challenges and gain a lot of experience so that I can provide my distinctive value to the company.
I recently had my first child, which has helped me understand the feelings of other parents working at the company. It’s important to avoid taking on everything on my own, and instead ask for help when I really need it, because I can’t collapse from exhaustion. This personal life change has also made me realize that every colleague around me has important people in their lives, and thus I have to be considerate to them more than ever. This is the important perspective to build a good relationship.
Looking back at my life so far, I realize that I wasn’t interested in other people in the first place. However, through my part-time job in college and my experiences as a leader at DENSO, I have learned the pleasure of working with others, and also the importance of working together as one team. Furthermore, now that I’ve become a parent, I have greater respect for my colleagues who work for the sake of their families.
Good manufacturing is based on good relationships among workplace members.
I will continue to improve how I interact with others in order to develop better relationships with them.
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